Surprise! Watching TV is bad for you. But, not for the reasons you might think. Okay, well, those too… but not only for the reasons you think. A recent study by Cancer Research UK revealed those watching more than three hours of television a day were more likely to eat hundreds of additional snacks per year, the kind of snacks known for making you fat. Interestingly enough, though, it wasn’t the sedentary behavior, per se, that did the average TV watcher’s waistline in; it was the advertisements. Based on a YouGov survey, the organization questioned 3,348 young people between the…
Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have devised a new use for “brain-on-a-chip” technology: testing the effects of biological and chemical agents on the brain over time. Their research was published in PLOS in November 2017. This work is part of an ever-growing body of research dedicated to developing “brain-on-a-chip” technology in hopes that one day, it may eliminate the need for animal testing.
The so-called brain-on-a-chip is essentially a wafer of semiconductors to which researchers affix a network of nanowires. When brain cells are introduced onto the chip, they can use the nanowire as scaffolding to build functional neuronal circuits that mimic the interconnectivity of neurons in the brain. Once the lattice is constructed, researchers can not only observe the connectivity as-is but study the impact of disease and trauma.
In January 2017, researchers at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) first made headlines with such a “brain-on-a-chip” device. This chip allowed them to identify the differences between neurons depending on where in the brain they originate from, as well as how those different neurons connect with one another, specifically providing insight into the neurological basis of schizophrenia. Researchers at the Australian National University later refined the nanowire scaffolding technique, developing the first-ever working neuronal circuits.
The latest in brain-on-a-chip applications from LLNL found that the technology can be used to study the impact of long-term exposure to biological and chemical agents on the brain. The team was primarily interested in the kinds of chemical exposures that might be experienced by those in the military — a demographic of patients that are already of interest to neurological study, on account of the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In their study, the researchers at LLNL were focused on using their “brain-on-a-chip” to study how brain cells are affected by exposure to a number of chemical agents, and how those agents change the brain over time. The hope is that through a deeper understanding of the mechanisms at play, antidotes, treatments, or preventative efforts could be developed and deployed to troops to help protect them.
The “brain-on-a-chip” device used by the team at LLNL was designed to have custom-built inserts that give them the ability to model different regions of the brain, swapping them in and out to study their interconnectivity as needed. It also lets the researchers shift easily from the “macro world to the micro world,” since they can place multiple cell types in much smaller areas than has ever been possible before.
From there, the team was able to monitor the bursts that occur between brain cells when they communicate — called “action potential patterns” — as well as give them an idea of how that communication changed over time, particularly if the brain were exposed to something that could change those patterns, like a chemical agent.
“Obviously at a high dose, we know exposure is going to be detrimental, but think about the warfighter who is exposed to a low level of chemical for a long time,” iCHIP principal investigator Elizabeth Wheeler explained in an LLNL press release. “Using this device in the future, we might be able to predict how that brain is going to be affected. If we understand how it’s affected, then we can develop a countermeasure to protect the warfighter.”
No More Lab Rats?
“While we’re not close to the point where we can fully recapitulate a brain outside of the body, this is an important step in terms of increasing complexity of these devices and moving in the right direction,” said co-lead author and LLNL research engineer Dave Soscia in the team’s press release. “The idea is that eventually, the community gets to a point where people are confident enough in the devices that the effects they see from putting chemicals or pharmaceutical drugs into the platform environment are similar to the results we would see in the human body.”
“You could mimic someone getting a brief exposure on a battlefield and then look at the neurons over six months and see what happens,” Kris Kulp, LLNL biologist, further explained. “Maybe they recover from that initial exposure, but six months from now they still have some kind of detriment. This is the only kind of system that would allow for that kind of experimentation on human cells.”
The next step in development will be for the team to connect with computer scientists, statisticians and others who can help them analyze and fully model the data that this extraordinary device has provided.
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A pair of major Apple shareholders have issued an open letter asking the company to study the impact of heavy smartphone use by children and teenagers, as well as offer more parental restrictions on iPhones.
AppleInsider – Frontpage News
Bee Population Decline
It’s a well-known fact that global bee populations are on the decline. Scientists have been struggling to better understand the alarming trend for years, and a new study appears to have shed some light on a key contributing factor. The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has shown that fungicides are a leading factor linked to bee population declines.
In a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, it was revealed that from 2008 to 2013, populations declined about 23 percent across the contiguous U.S., and in 139 counties throughout the U.S., wild bee populations are considered to be in serious danger.
The worrisome trend is not only a threat to native bee populations but to many industries, humans rely on, in which pollinators (bees in particular) play a critical role in, such as agriculture and the continued success of plant species. According to a 2014 piece published by the BBC, bees “pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $ 30 billion a year in crops.”
The recent study showed fungicides may well be the strongest contributing factor to bee decline. These findings came as a surprise to scientists, as fungicides are used to target molds and mildews, not insects. In fact, according to Scott McArt, at Cornell University in the U.S. and who led the new study, up until now “Fungicides have been largely overlooked.”
Researchers are not positive about why they pose such a distinct threat to bees, but the present conclusion is that they make bees more susceptible to the deadly nosema parasite and/or increase the toxicity of other pesticides. What scientists do know is that whatever the mechanism is that makes fungicides so deadly to bees, it needs to be addressed for the sake of these populations.
McArt expanded, saying that “There needs to be much more work on fungicides and their role in bee declines. People are not looking in all the places they probably should.”
Matt Shardlow, at conservation charity Buglife, said that “The way we humans are managing the landscape is putting bees are under enormous pressure, and just as we seem to be making progress towards a complete ban [in the EU] on a proven factor – neonicotinoid insecticides – it appears a very common fungicide could also be a driver of wild bee decline. Scientists and regulators must respond with urgent new studies.”
Professor David Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK added that “This research suggests the regulatory system for pesticides may have let us down once again, perhaps because regulatory tests don’t expose bees to the pesticide and a disease at the same time.”
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